06 December 2011

Google - Unhelpful Changes and Helpful AROUND(n)

I recently blogged about my love-hate relationship with a genealogical subscription service. I have the same relationship nowadays with Google. I have loved Google since I first saw it back in the days before most people had ever heard of the World Wide Web. Working in a computer engineering and design center gave exposure to a lot of technology before the general public learned about it. Google was so much better than the directory structure Yahoo offered at the time (mid-1990s). Google is still better, but, like so many organizations today, Google seems to be working to attract more non-tech users at the expense of attracting highly technical users by offering unique and customize-able tools.

Today Google can frustrate tech-savvy users as it forces changes that are more useful to the non-tech-savvy and drops tools we have come to depend on. I am a long-time user of Google Desktop Search now looking for a replacement that is better than the built-in search in Windows. Yes, I know Windows 7 search is better than prior versions, but it still lacks features I need. I am also evaluating continued use of other tools from Google, Mozilla, and commercial vendors.

FreeCommander has been my file management tool of choice for several years and is quickly becoming my desktop search tool of choice, too. The disk search and dual file display in NoteTab Pro is also useful. For those of us into geeky features, both offer search and file comparison features as well as some options useful to programmers (support for regular expressions and easy implementation of tools like Perl). For years I have said the $20 I spent on NoteTab Pro is the best $20 I ever spent on software. Both NoteTab and FreeCommander offer free versions with small costs to access more feature-rich versions. More on those tools in a future blog post.

Some of Google's new search settings and selection menus make it harder to access the options that made Google more useful than other sites. YouTube is way down on my list of priorities, but is on the first menu of offerings in Gmail's new pop-up menu design. Reader, Calendar, Books, Scholar—my most-used tools—now require several additional clicks to get to. Don't get me wrong. I love that Google still offers these tools. I hate that they are harder to get to now except when I use my own personal link list instead of using Google's menus.

How can we can convince Google the big, giant, black box drop-down is NOT an improvement over the nice, clean display screen that has always been Google's trademark? What were they thinking?

On the plus side for Google, I learned about another useful search option today: AROUND(n). I'm not sure how I missed this feature for so long. AROUND (which must be entered in capital letters) instructs Google to search for two terms within n words of each other. For example,
dna AROUND(5) genealogy
searches for the words "dna" and "genealogy" within five words of each other in a document. This can be especially useful when you remember seeing a phrase, but can't remember the exact wording. For technical searches, more control is better. The hit list for the above search is similar to a search for "dna genealogy" without the AROUND option, but is sorted differently.

I learned about AROUND(n) while reading the Law Librarian blog which also pointed me to the Google Guide website which looks very useful. Thanks, Law Librarian.

© 2011, Debbie Parker Wayne, All Rights Reserved

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